What are the best state court judges? Forum

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What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 06, 2022 4:43 am

Are there any state court clerkships that you think rival federal clerkships in terms of prestige or experience?

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 06, 2022 8:26 am

Tom Lee on the Utah Supreme Court comes to mind for conservatives. He has been a pioneer in corpus linguistics and is obviously politically connected. I know he has sent people to the top feeders/SCOTUS.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 06, 2022 9:52 am

In terms of experience, the Maine Superior Court was a great state court clerkship. You are assigned to two judges and you see just about every area of law you could imagine. I also clerked in federal court after, and I can say that they were very similar. You get assigned a pending motion, and you do all the research and submit a draft order. However, unlike USDC, you don't handle the small procedural motions. Law clerks for Maine also don't deal with administrative matters like many other trial court law clerks do. You are strictly legal research and writing.

Also, Maine doesn't have a court of appeals. Pretty much all Superior Court opinions are on Lexis/Westlaw. So there is a strong emphasis on opinion writing because the court looks to its own precedent and emphasizes consistency in its jurisprudence.

I cant say it was a rather prestigious clerkship however. Although I personally think I learned more in my Superior Court clerkship than I did USDC, no one ever seemed interested in that experience when I was job hunting.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by nixy » Thu Jan 06, 2022 10:55 am

California Supreme Court seems one of the obvious answers, but that’s in part because they mostly don’t hire term clerks (last I heard it was Liu and maybe one other?) and when they do, you need COA-level credentials to get hired.

Beyond that, I think it’s going to be very contingent on who you clerk for and where you want to practice. The state Supreme Court in the state where you want to practice can be as helpful for getting work in that state as a federal clerkship, depending on the specific justice’s connections and reputation (although biglaw firms that practice only in federal court will still probably favor federal clerkships to some extent). That doesn’t mean having that state Supreme Court clerkship will necessarily look exactly the same as a federal clerkship on your resume when applying around the country, though.

The other issue is that appellate is generally seen as more “prestigious,” but unless you’re going to be an appellate only litigator, trial courts are going to give you more useful practical
experience. But state trial courts aren’t going to look “prestigious” on a resume based on conventional definitions of prestige. (Just describing how I think this works, not endorsing it.)

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by ExpOriental » Thu Jan 06, 2022 11:47 am

DE Chancery is the obvious answer here, but I don't know if I'd even think about it as a "state court" in the practical sense. It's kind of its own thing.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 06, 2022 12:44 pm

Tom Lee, CA, maybe DE, NY, TX, and potentially the SSC of the state you plan to practice in, depending on its reputation.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by The Lsat Airbender » Thu Jan 06, 2022 4:03 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 12:44 pm
Tom Lee, CA, maybe DE, NY, TX, and potentially the SSC of the state you plan to practice in, depending on its reputation.
This is basically as long as the list could get, yeah, assuming "DE" encompasses both SC and Chancery. Like, Massachusetts gets applications from HLS grads with decent grades, but those people want to stay in Boston.

Quoting this from anon in another thread:
Anonymous User wrote:
Wed Mar 03, 2021 4:49 pm
Posting anonymously because I have experience with state supreme court hiring. Speaking only to out-of-state placement in large law firms, state supreme court clerkships fall into three tiers.

Tier 1: California Supreme Court, Delaware Supreme Court, Delaware Court of Chancery. Destination clerkships for out-of-staters. About the same as federal court of appeals clerkships, and ultra-portable. Also in this tier: clerkships for "feeder" justices from other states like Thomas Lee (Utah Supreme Court).

Tier 2: New York Court of Appeals, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Texas Supreme Court. Quality clerkships with national reputations. As valuable as standard federal district court clerkships, sometimes more so, but with greater pull inside the state than outside. Also (possibly) in this tier: the Alaska Supreme Court, which idiosyncratically hires loads of T-14ers.

Tier 3: The rest. Respectable, with some courts (and some justices) enjoying better reputations than others. Substantially more valuable inside the state than outside. When outside the state, substantially more valuable in the nearby region. Colorado Supreme Court clerks do better in Utah than Georgia, for example.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 06, 2022 4:41 pm

Doesn't NJ have a decent reputation too?

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by The Lsat Airbender » Thu Jan 06, 2022 7:53 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 4:41 pm
Doesn't NJ have a decent reputation too?
Decent yeah but that still puts it in Tier 3 using the above classification. Would only clerk there if trying to work in NJ; not confident it would even carry to NYC/Philly/Delaware

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 06, 2022 8:17 pm

The Lsat Airbender wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 7:53 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 4:41 pm
Doesn't NJ have a decent reputation too?
Decent yeah but that still puts it in Tier 3 using the above classification. Would only clerk there if trying to work in NJ; not confident it would even carry to NYC/Philly/Delaware
I'm just always bewildered by threads like this.

Clerking for State Supreme Courts can be a great way to learn and improve your writing.

But the idea that workaday lawyers think more of a young lawyer because they clerked for a senator's brother in Utah who "pioneered" something called corpus linguistics is kinda whackadoodle. Also, as a federal civil litigator on the east coast, I've hardly ever relied on cases out of state courts in Texas or California. Those could be great courts, for all I know. I'm just not super familiar with their precedents or reasoning or judges to say "wow, what a great Court." On what basis could the average lawyer say they're the best courts?

Also, NY Court of Appeals? Judge Cardozo was great back in the day, but . . . is anyone impressed by their decisions these days? Also, isn't Rivera some kind of anti-vaxxer? Prestigious my ass.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 06, 2022 10:48 pm

The Lsat Airbender wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 7:53 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 4:41 pm
Doesn't NJ have a decent reputation too?
Decent yeah but that still puts it in Tier 3 using the above classification. Would only clerk there if trying to work in NJ; not confident it would even carry to NYC/Philly/Delaware
Hard disagree. Met multiple people who “carried” it to Philly/NYC

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 06, 2022 11:31 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 8:17 pm
The Lsat Airbender wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 7:53 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 4:41 pm
Doesn't NJ have a decent reputation too?
Decent yeah but that still puts it in Tier 3 using the above classification. Would only clerk there if trying to work in NJ; not confident it would even carry to NYC/Philly/Delaware
I'm just always bewildered by threads like this.

Clerking for State Supreme Courts can be a great way to learn and improve your writing.

But the idea that workaday lawyers think more of a young lawyer because they clerked for a senator's brother in Utah who "pioneered" something called corpus linguistics is kinda whackadoodle. Also, as a federal civil litigator on the east coast, I've hardly ever relied on cases out of state courts in Texas or California. Those could be great courts, for all I know. I'm just not super familiar with their precedents or reasoning or judges to say "wow, what a great Court." On what basis could the average lawyer say they're the best courts?

Also, NY Court of Appeals? Judge Cardozo was great back in the day, but . . . is anyone impressed by their decisions these days? Also, isn't Rivera some kind of anti-vaxxer? Prestigious my ass.
Prestige isn’t the same thing as utility, or district courts would be valued more than COAs. And a lot of biglaw litigators know and care about prestigious judges.

So clerking for an SSC justice who clerked on SCOTUS, has sent clerks to SCOTUS, teaches at top law schools, and has big-time law review publications will get you more credit in fancy legal circles than clerking for the average SSC justice—hence the desirability of Goodwin Liu and Tom Lee.

And CA, NY, and TX are big jurisdictions that get big cases and have justices with big-prestige backgrounds. That means they’re also quite selective. Probably true that NY is not what it used to be though.

Fwiw I took Tom Lee’s class and while he’s a good guy and very smart, I agree that the corpus linguistics thing is kinda a gimmick and it would be nice if he branched out.
Last edited by Anonymous User on Thu Jan 06, 2022 11:44 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Thu Jan 06, 2022 11:41 pm

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 8:17 pm
The Lsat Airbender wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 7:53 pm
Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 4:41 pm
Doesn't NJ have a decent reputation too?
Decent yeah but that still puts it in Tier 3 using the above classification. Would only clerk there if trying to work in NJ; not confident it would even carry to NYC/Philly/Delaware
I'm just always bewildered by threads like this.

Clerking for State Supreme Courts can be a great way to learn and improve your writing.

But the idea that workaday lawyers think more of a young lawyer because they clerked for a senator's brother in Utah who "pioneered" something called corpus linguistics is kinda whackadoodle. Also, as a federal civil litigator on the east coast, I've hardly ever relied on cases out of state courts in Texas or California. Those could be great courts, for all I know. I'm just not super familiar with their precedents or reasoning or judges to say "wow, what a great Court." On what basis could the average lawyer say they're the best courts?

Also, NY Court of Appeals? Judge Cardozo was great back in the day, but . . . is anyone impressed by their decisions these days? Also, isn't Rivera some kind of anti-vaxxer? Prestigious my ass.
Yeah I don't really know what OP means or is looking for. If it is lay prestige then I agree with the commenter who said you should just find the judge/justice who has the most stringent hiring standards.

As for the "best" court, that's a pretty subjective question. From what I understand, the "best" courts are the ones that are the most innovative in their jurisprudence, meaning they've written landmark opinions that other states and SCOTUS rely on. To the extent anyone agrees with that definition, I would say NJ, Mass SJC, and CA are the "best." Those courts consistently write the most innovative opinions in high-impact areas. Mass SJC wrote the first or second marriage equality opinion that would spread to other states and then form the basis of Obergefell. NJ wrote an opinion several years ago about cops using cell data that SCOTUS relied on and also wrote the Mt. Laurel cases and is credited with creating products liability as an area of tort law. CA wrote some really important death penalty opinions.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 07, 2022 12:59 am

OP here
It seems like there are certain SSC justices who are on par with federal judges (Lee in Utah for conservatives; probably Robinson in VT before she was appointed to CA2 for liberals). Are there other SSC justices that you think are particularly good experiences or maybe better experiences for appellate than circuit courts? How do you identify them? What sort of credentials would a successful applicant have?

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 07, 2022 2:03 am

Saying that Tom Lee needs to branch out is absurd… he’s one of the few state Supreme Court justices who takes state constitutional interpretation seriously and doesn’t simply parrot SCOTUS. He’s not just the corpus linguistics guy.

Ultimately, justices who are a big deal and well connected give their clerks access to those networks. It’s not about whether a somewhat-accomplished east coast litigator knows who they are or what the jurisdiction is; it’s about the doors those connections open.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 07, 2022 2:35 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Jan 07, 2022 12:59 am
or maybe better experiences for appellate than circuit courts?
Not sure anyone has really suggested this. And I'm still unsure what you mean by best experience. If you're talking about the best mentor from whom you'll learn the most - there are a lot of good and bad mentors out there at every level of court. (I clerked twice and the far less "prestigious" judge provided by far the much better training in writing/analysis, just because of the interests and personality of the judges involved.) The only real way you can identify these judges is do a lot of digging with anyone who might have connections to them. My suggestion is to find out from your career office which judges have hired clerks from your school and reach out to those clerks, or at least ask around about those judges.

If by best you mean the clerkship that will look shiniest on your resume and open the most doors based on name value (rather than improving your lawyering skills), I agree with the person above who said to look for the judge with the most stringent hiring criteria.

The thing is, if you want the shiniest resume item, top state clerkships aren't necessarily easier to get than federal clerkships. Obviously if you're competitive for SCOTUS feeders you can be pickier about a SSC clerkship, but if you're asking which state judges rival federal judges in terms of prestige/experience because you don't think you're competitive for federal clerkships, the top state judges aren't really going to be easier to get. It's not easier to get clerkships with Goodwin Liu and Tom Lee than one with a "flyover" federal district court judge just because the former two are in a state court. (If you have the credentials for great federal clerkships and for whatever reason just want work in state law, that's different.) In my experience, SSC clerks tend to split between T14 grads with ties, and the top grads from the local schools, which isn't *that* far off the local district court clerks (I think that often the prestige/competitiveness of the SSC and local federal district will track). But a SSC judge who is seen as on par with a federal judge is going to hire like a federal judge. So it's not clear to me that trying to find and target such judges is going to be very helpful, rather than the more standard process of figuring out where you are competitive and applying to those judges.

If you don't think you have the credentials for federal court but want the learning experience/mentoring that a clerkship will provide for the sake of the experience, then you're back to asking around about which judges who hire out of your school provide a good experience. I don't think that kind of information travels as widely about state judges as it can about federal judges (and it's hard enough to find out what working for them is REALLY like, too) so it really is word of mouth and connections.

As for what makes someone a competitive candidate, ideally your school can give you a sense of who a judge has hired before. Also go look up people's former clerks on LinkedIn. This will give you a reasonable sense of who's competitive. It's not really different for state or federal judges.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 07, 2022 9:11 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Jan 07, 2022 12:59 am
OP here
It seems like there are certain SSC justices who are on par with federal judges (Lee in Utah for conservatives; probably Robinson in VT before she was appointed to CA2 for liberals). Are there other SSC justices that you think are particularly good experiences or maybe better experiences for appellate than circuit courts? How do you identify them? What sort of credentials would a successful applicant have?
I posted above. I'm still having trouble understanding what you're looking for. Because two of us in this thread have already said that if you're looking for gold stars, then find the judge who has the most stringent hiring standards. But even then, I'd say you should reach out to former clerks to ask what work the clerkship did for them, since this assumes you're seeking prestige more than anything else. If the clerkship's alleged prestige bumps isn't doing anything for you then what's the point. So I think you should be sure you're getting the return, so to speak, that you're seeking, whatever it is.

Assuming you're looking for something beyond just adding a shine to your resume, like substantive experience, mentorship, etc. As I mentioned above, I think the general view is the "best" courts are the most innovative ones. On that I think you can do some research. When people (scholars, judges, etc) write about state courts, which ones do they consistently refer to? Then I'd look to see, within that court, which justices are consistently writing the high-impact opinions (e.g., use westlaw's judge-search function)? For many (but not all) state courts, the chief justice usually writes all the big, high-profile opinions. But it's worth searching to find out. So then what you have is a list of the judges writing all of the high-impact opinions on major issues, on the courts with a reputation for making some of the most innovative law on hard questions. Again, assuming you're interested in substantive experience, especially if impact litigation appellate work is an interest, I can't think of many experiences that would be better.

As for candidate stats, I agree with the poster who said it's kind of split. The top justices will generally hire clerks with stats that make them competitive for COA (i.e., top 15-30% from T14 or top couple students from local school).

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by The Lsat Airbender » Fri Jan 07, 2022 9:50 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Thu Jan 06, 2022 10:48 pm

Hard disagree. Met multiple people who “carried” it to Philly/NYC
Fair enough. I'd wager they generally had the necessary credentials pre-clerkship, though. I regret getting into the hair-splitting between NY/TX/MA/NJ, which I don't have a strong opinion about.
Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Jan 07, 2022 2:35 am
If you don't think you have the credentials for federal court but want the learning experience/mentoring that a clerkship will provide for the sake of the experience, then you're back to asking around about which judges who hire out of your school provide a good experience. I don't think that kind of information travels as widely about state judges as it can about federal judges (and it's hard enough to find out what working for them is REALLY like, too) so it really is word of mouth and connections.
I'm reminded that another problem with this entire discussion is how small the sample sizes can be. DE Chancery has, like, a dozen clerks, and many of them are on 2-year stints.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 07, 2022 2:51 pm

I've heard clerking for Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack on the Michigan Supreme Court is a great experience and she has a good reputation/is a faculty member of Michigan Law School. Can't comment on portability outside of Michigan though.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 07, 2022 3:06 pm

.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Fri Jan 07, 2022 4:26 pm

Just tossing into the mix the DC Court of Appeals, which is the District's highest court, and several of the judges are known to be great to work for. I cannot say anything in how it would stack up in terms of ~prestige

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Jan 08, 2022 9:35 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Fri Jan 07, 2022 2:51 pm
I've heard clerking for Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack on the Michigan Supreme Court is a great experience and she has a good reputation/is a faculty member of Michigan Law School. Can't comment on portability outside of Michigan though.
I've also heard clerking for Justice Liu in CA and Chief Justice Rabner in NJ are both great jobs.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Jan 08, 2022 9:59 pm

If a person is specifically looking for conservative public interest/impact work, Justice Bolick on AZSC has an unusually large amount of pull in DC for an Arizona justice. But that isn't the sort of prestige people typically are looking for. He's not the clerkship for you if you want to, say, parlay into a federal circuit clerkship.

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Sat Jan 08, 2022 10:28 pm

Any specific info on the NJ justices? Rabner, Patterson, Albin, and Pierre-Louis seem great to work for (as will Rachel Apter when confirmed!)

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Re: What are the best state court judges?

Post by Anonymous User » Sun Jan 09, 2022 9:59 am

Anonymous User wrote:
Sat Jan 08, 2022 10:28 pm
Any specific info on the NJ justices? Rabner, Patterson, Albin, and Pierre-Louis seem great to work for (as will Rachel Apter when confirmed!)
Rabner is an excellent judge and has a great reputation within NJ and beyond it (e.g., I know for a fact there's a non-zero number of profs at YLS who push candidates to apply to him). He writes the court's big opinions so that's usually interesting for his clerks. From what I gather, he's very active in mentoring his clerks beyond the year in chambers.

Patterson is very sharp. Though the court is generally left of center, she typically votes with the more right-leaning members. She is also very close to her clerks, both during and beyond the clerkship.

Albin hits mandatory retirement in July so won't be hiring. He's a prolific member of the court and writes separately in many cases. From an ideological perspective, he has traditionally been the most progressive-leaning member of the court.

Pierre-Louis is new and has established a great reputation so far. Her opinions are very clear and well written. Thus far, she and Albin have voted similarly in cases. From what I understand, she's a wonderful boss.

Wainer-Apter's candidacy is up in the air. The senate didn't move on it so Murphy will need to renominate her next week otherwise it's game over. I have no idea whether she will or won't be a wonderful boss.

One brief note: the court is going to look very different by next term. Three justices are retiring this term. LaVecchia retired last month (for which Wainer-Apter was nominated), Fernandez-Vina hits mandatory retirement in February, and Albin must retired in July. So Murphy has an opportunity to nominate the majority of the justices on the court. From a clerkship perspective, folks interested in the court should keep their eyes on NJ news outlets and perhaps talk to their clerkship offices about process for contacting nominees or recently confirmed justices for a clerkship.

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